How Low Can We Go? Looking At How Far the Sixers Might Tank This Year

How Low Can We Go? Looking At How Far the Sixers Might Tank This Year

Are we sure that Doug Collins isn't secretly, like, a brilliant tanker?
We've gotten so caught up in the question of why he continues to play
Damien Wilkins and Royal Ivey over the higher-upside likes of Arnett
Moultrie, Charles Jenkins and even Dorell Wright—is he just overvaluing
his veterans? Does he really hate young guys that much? Are the Russians
somehow involved?—that maybe we're just totally glazing over the
obvious answer that Collins really doesn't want to win ballgames that
badly right now. After all, maybe Moultrie and Jenkins are like,
secretly really awesome at basketball—at least with Ivey and Wilkins,
you now the low-ceiling brand of hoops you're getting.

Anyway, if that is Dougie's brilliant, evil plot, it's totally
working. After dropping two to the Heat and Knicks this weekend, the
Sixers have lost five in a row, and are now a full ten games under .500,
officially their lowest point since the Eddie Jordan era. Once seen as a
playoff challenger in the East—and sadly, they still technically are,
just four games back of the similarly sagging Bucks—the Sixers have even
now fallen back to Toronto territory, the Raps having played much
better since acquiring Rudy Gay in a trade and getting a couple other
players back from injury. Were the season to end today, the Sixers would
finish with the 11th-worst record in the league, giving them about a 1%
chance of landing in the lottery.

Now, you probably don't need me to tell you why this is important,
but I'll do it anyway—the Sixers, as a young and (ostensibly) improving
team, are now in a position to additionally acquire an invaluable asset
at season's end with a top-ten draft pick. This could potentially
benefit the Sixers in one of two important ways: Either it gives them a
chance to add a potential core player to their existing
Jrue-Evan-Thad-(maybe Funny Looking Kid With the Big Hair?) unit,
cementing the team as one of the most promising young rosters in the
league, though leaving them likely still a season or two away from
possible contention. Or, they could package the pick with another one of
their non-untouchable trade assets—Evan or Thad maybe, depending on
what a team is more looking for—and try to land them a real star player
in the off-season, to go with Jrue and maybe/possibly a re-signed
FLKWTBH. It's enough to dream about, that maybe this season won't have
to end as a total waste.

Even in their best worst-case scenario, the Sixers probably won't
have a great shot at a top-three pick—we'll probably end up with at
least 30 wins, if only incidentally, so we're not likely to end with
more than a 7.5% chance or so of their ping-pong balls being selected.
Still, even if the Sixers won't be able to land a Ben McLemore or
Nerlens Noel at the top of the draft—and nobody's a surefire star in
this draft anyway—they could still get an impact player in the 6-10
range, a rangy center like Indiana's Tyler Zeller or Maryland's Alex
Len, or maybe an athletic wing slasher like UCLA's Shabazz Muhammad or
Kentucky's Alex Poythress. These guys might not be franchise players,
but they could be big pieces (no RyHo) for the Sixers, and better,
cheaper players to build around than those they'd be likely to find in
free agency.

But before we start scouting who we're going to pick, we should
figure out where we're likely to be picking. The Sixers lay in 11th now,
but they could conceivably climb much higher, depending on who among
the league's bottom-feeders they can catch near the bottom of the
standings. Let's examine the likely suspects.

1. Toronto Raptors: 23-34, 10th Worst Record in League. A
loss at home to the Wizards last night—not as embarrassing an occurrence
these days as you might think—breaks their tie with the Sixers in the
East, leaving the Raps in sole possession of 10th place in the lottery
standings. Still, as previously alluded to, our friends North of the
Border have been playing about as well as anyone in the Atlantic,
winning six of their last seven before the Washington loss, a nice core
congealing around the likes of the recently acquired swingman Rudy Gay
and improving (and recovering) young center Jonas Valanciunas. With team
management seemingly all-in on Toronto's unlikely playoff push, you can
expect they'll pass the Sixers with ease before long.

Chance of Out-Tanking: Very Good

2. Minnesota Timberwolves: 20-33, 9th Worst Record in League.
The Timberwolves got off to an impressive start with about 50% of their
roster injured at season's beginning, starting the year 13-11. Then
that 50% number got even higher, a couple returning players didn't
provide the needed boost, and the bottom fell out, with their recent win
against the Sixers (sigh) one of just six wins the T'Wolves have
accrued thusfar in 2013. Still, they've picked things up a little
recently, with point guard Ricky Rubio finally starting to impose his
will on games as he was predicted to do upon his return from ACL
surgery, and franchise power forward Kevin Love should be coming back
sometime in Mid-March. They may only have to be competent to pass the
Sixers, and with a healthier roster and the always-sturdy Rick Adelman
at the helm, they have a pretty good shot, even in the crowded West.

Chance of Out-Tanking: Good

3. Detroit Pistons: 22-36, 8th Worst Record in League.
The Pistons have teased with promise for much of the year, beating
powerhouses like the Spurs and Heat but losing a whole lot of winnable
games in between. Struggling recently, they'll get a boost with the
return of rookie sensation Andre Drummond, missing about a month with a
stress fracture. But they play only nine of their last 24 at home, and
might fold up the tent early if they decide (not erroneously) that
winning games isn't really worth their while this season. (A late game
against the Sixers on Apr 15th might very well make the difference, so,
uh, mark your calendars for that one.)

Chance of Out-Tanking: Slight

4. New Orleans Hornets: 20-37, 7th Worst Record in League.
The Hornets looked like they were ready to roll with the return of
maxed-out shooting guard Eric Gordon early in the New Year, winning six
of seven at one point and looking like they'd finally found the recipe
after a dismal 7-25 start. But the Hornets have been up-and-down ever
since then, failing to break away from the lottery contenders. The
Hornets' remaining schedule remains a tough combination of winnable road
games and challenging homers, so it'll really depend on which New
Orleans team shows up for the rest of the season to see if they'll be
able to make up the three-and-a-half game difference between them and
the Sixers.

Chance of Out-Tanking: Slightly better than slight

5. Washington Wizards, 18-37, 6th Worst Record in League.
Not long ago it would have been unimaginable to talk about the Wizards
possibly catching the Sixers in the standings—not because the Sixers
were ever that good, but because the Wizards started the year so very,
very bad. But after their dismal 4-28 start, the team has been playing
exponentially more inspired basketball since the return from injury of
former #1 overall pick John Wall (plus some other dudes), and have now
won seven of their last nine, with all but one of those seven wins
coming against teams currently in line for the post-season. This may or
may not be sustainable enough to catch the Sixers from 4.5 back, but I
certainly know which team I would bet on when they face off this Sunday.

Chance of Out-Tanking: Surprisingly good

Probably Not Gonna Happen: Cavaliers, Kings, Suns, Magic, Bobcats

I'd say three of these teams will probably pass the Sixers before
season's end, with the return of TFLKWTBH obviously being a very big
variable in either direction. That would leave the Sixers 8th in the
lottery standings, which sounds about right to me. You guys good with
getting the 8th pick this year? I could certainly talk myself into it.

No. 24 Penn State at Purdue: Nittany Lions seek 1st road win

No. 24 Penn State at Purdue: Nittany Lions seek 1st road win

Penn State (5-2, 3-1) vs. Purdue (3-4, 1-3)
Ross-Ade Stadium, West Lafayette, Ind.
Saturday, noon, ABC/ESPN2

Scouting Penn State
The Lions upended the Buckeyes, 24-21, when safety Marcus Allen blocked a field goal and cornerback Grant Haley returned it 60 yards for a touchdown with 4:27 left in the game. The Lions, who rallied from a 21-7 deficit after three quarters, earned their third straight victory.

Allen and Haley were named Big Ten co-Special Teams Players of the Week, and linebacker Brandon Bell, who had a career-high 19 tackles in the game, earned the conference’s Defensive Player of the Week honor.

Running back Saquon Barkley has rushed for 681 yards, fifth most in the Big Ten, and is tied for the conference lead in touchdowns with nine.

Scouting Purdue
Purdue fell to Nebraska last week in the debut of Boilermakers interim coach Gerad Parker, who replaced the fired Darrell Hazell on Oct. 16. Quarterback David Blough leads the Big Ten in passing yardage (2,065) and total offense (300.7 yards per game), and has thrown 14 touchdown passes (albeit with 11 interceptions).

The Boilermakers are, however, last in the Big Ten in rushing offense (120.3), total defense (441.0), turnover margin (minus-8) and red-zone offense (15 for 23, 11 touchdowns) and next to last in rushing defense (249.0) and passing efficiency.

The Lions lead 13-3-1 and have won the last seven meetings, the most recent a 45-21 victory in 2013.

Storyline to watch
This is the ultimate trap game for PSU, and the Lions’ approach to it will say a lot about their leadership and maturity. They have also dropped their last four road games dating back to last season, including both this fall. Their last victory away from home came last Oct. 24, against Maryland in Baltimore.

What’s at stake
The Lions can become bowl-eligible with a victory.

Penn State 35, Purdue 21

Embiid and Okafor want to play together, but not just yet, says Brown

Embiid and Okafor want to play together, but not just yet, says Brown

CAMDEN, N.J. — If all goes as planned, a time will come when the Sixers can roll out a dominating frontcourt duo with Joel Embiid and Jahlil Okafor sharing the court in lengthy stretches.

That moment has to wait, though, as both Embiid and Okafor are on minute restrictions. As he returns from a knee injury, Okafor currently is coming off the bench and backing up Embiid.

“This conversation with Jahlil and Joel is more intelligent and applicable at a later date,” Brett Brown said at practice Friday. “When Jahlil’s minutes start going up and Joel can, then it’s a real conversation. I do think you may see them sooner than even I thought together. But as far as making it a real constant part of a strategy or rotation, it’s beyond too early days.”

In an ideal world, Brown could pair the two bigs now and use all of their allotted minutes (Embiid 20, Okafor 14) at once. That would leave an extensive workload on second-year bench player Richaun Holmes.

“This is a hot topic,” Brown said. “I will say it one more time: If I play Jahlil and Jo together, I hope Richaun can play 35 minutes.”

It’s an unrealistic expectation for Holmes, who averaged 13.8 minutes in 51 games last season. Brown caps the majority of the Sixers at six-minute segments to keep them competing at a high energy level.

“Right now, he’s a backup,” Brown said of Holmes. “I think he’s going to be an NBA player for a very long time. I just feel like in the role, he’s a second-year player that didn’t really have much of a role last year. He’s shown everybody that he’s for real. He really can play a role. At this early stage, that is the key word.”

Embiid and Okafor have been envisioning competing together since Okafor was drafted two years ago. They became friends long before they were NBA players and have an easy chemistry on the court as a result.

“I think it’s going to be exciting,” Embiid said. “We played a little bit together today in practice. We’re figuring out how to play with each other. It’s a process and we’ve got trust it.”

Yes, the players know they have to wait, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy for them to resist an opportunity to play with one another.  

“I think once we figure it out, we can really dominate together,” Okafor said. “We were able to flirt with it again today. We accidentally keep ending up on the same team even though Coach keeps telling us to make sure we alternate. But we’re having fun. We’re trying to put some pressure on it because we want to play together.”

Is that accidentally with air quotes?

“Yeah, exactly,” Okafor said with a laugh.